Defining Great Game Design

What defines great game design ?

Short rulebook , great for spectators , last second end-game excitement, teamwork between robots, hard-hitting action ?

Please try to reference any game (FRC, VEX, FTC … beyond) in defining what you consider a great game!

My top components of a great game:

  • The ability for teams to build to their skill level. World class teams should be able to build really complex and multi-functional robots, while the less experienced teams or those with less resources can still produce something functional and satisfying.
  • Spectator-friendliness. (Is that a word? It is now.) If we’re going to “Make it Loud,” someone who hasn’t read the rule book should be able to gain a functional knowledge of the game by watching a match or two.
  • A reasonably short rule book. At a certain point, the game is just too hard to understand, and teams will start incurring penalties that they barely knew existed (cough Aerial Assist cough).
  • Some level of coopertition, whether it’s inter- or intra-alliance. Six robots doing the same thing in parallel is a lot less interesting than six robots doing the same thing in series. One thing that I loved about Aerial Assist was that it was fully possible, even likely, for an alliance of three decent robots to take down an alliance with one world-famous bot.

I’m interested to see what everyone else has to say!

Then quit takin’ them words outta my mouth!

The one other element that is needed, on top of what you mentioned already, is: CLEAR field markings, and commonsense rules about determining if someone is in or out of a zone or in some other similar position that determines points. “Clearly contacting” not “obviously overhanging” (or vice-versa depending on what sort of zone you’re talking about–2005, the latter. 2014, either/or. 2012, the former.")

And a good balance between foul points and playing points, but that’s very tough to do right every time.

For me it is a great balance between offense and defense, which I look at as having no safe zones (Aim High was a good example of this) or a limited amount of them. Safe zones can be good things though, don’t get me wrong, but having lots of them like in Logomotion or Ultimate Ascent made it a little bit annoying to see less defense being played. This is more of a personal thing than a general opinion, I know lots of people don’t like defense.

Another thing is having all tiers of teams be able to contribute in some way. I’m competing in VEX this year and teams who were having trouble building a good lift system were completely useless, since the floor goals are so small (I don’t want to start a rant about the current VEX game but it’s a good example of a game where it is hard to play defense or play at all if you aren’t a really good team).

An easy game to explain to people or just understand after watching a match or two is great. Games like Aerial Assist and Ultimate Ascent (and most other recent years) have been very good about this, where you could explain the basic gameplay in a sentence or two.

I also personally like games where there are lots of different tasks you can do, such as FIRST frenzy (2004), Ultimate Ascent, and if you know what savage soccer is, their game from last year was great for this (if you don’t know I can post a link).

Those are my personal thoughts, and may not reflect the FIRST community as a whole.

Flexibility in strategy that promotes intelligent design and emphasizes the fact that maybe the most obvious solution isn’t the best.

I’d suggest Aim High (2006) as an example of a great game. This allowed for great diversity in robot design (no two robots really looked the same); attainable goals for every level (high goals & floor goals & ramp climbing); easy to understand (score balls in goals for points, high goal was worth more); alliance strategy (backbot selection was important); exciting endgame and worthwhile autonomous mode; human player interactions.
Improvements to be made to the game: More reliable real-time scoring, improved ball-return system.

(The argument could be made that the bridges in 2012 allowed for more coopetition, and I would agree with that. However, low-resource teams had more opportunities to be beneficial to their alliances in 2006 than in 2012.)

This year’s game plus the successes of the last 3 years made me think more about how FRC’s GDC should approach these games each year. I like the list above. I’m adding some more fundamental principles that I think FRC should always keep in mind:

  1. The goal of FRC is to create a sporting event environment that generates excitement for participants and spectators. This means that spectators must be able to follow the game and that there are dramatic moments for them to cheer during the event (not just a “tennis clap” at the end). Participants also should feel the drama. The bottom line is that popularity of the game is actually important if FIRST wants to recruit students to this STEM program.
  • Sporting events (vs. games) require dynamic motion and interplay between competitors and teammates. Sporting events are not static and there should be a continuous flow when the competition is actually going. There many sports where there are short bursts with resets (think football or baseball) but those reset periods have anticipation for the next burst.
  • Any game design should have a strong dynamic element with team interaction in some form. One can be favored over the other but balance is best. Looking across human sports, all involve either hurling an object in some manner (hit, throw, toss etc), a race, or qualitative judging of moving the body in a difficult way. FIRST doesn’t have the resources for the third type, so it should focus on choosing between one of the first two.
  • It can be difficult for spectators to follow more than one game element at a time. Either playing with a single element, either one per team or one for the match, or limiting scoring to one robot at a time could help for following the event. As good as ultimate ascent was, the barrage of discs could be hard to follow especially if the real time scoring wasn’t accurate. Last year was much easier to follow.
  1. Another goal of FRC is to expand the reach of STEM-based education across communities. One potentially high-yield channel is having the most experienced and competent teams assisting the less-experienced teams. The best way to do this is have games that require interaction among alliance mates. Last year’s game ended up being a good example of how all 3 robots had to be involved. If teams know that games will require all 3 robots the best teams will have an incentive to help others. (Sorry but as an economist relying solely on charity to achieve community goals is a really, really bad idea. I can point you to the article by Hal Varian, CIO for Google, that makes this case.)
  • FRC has a truly unique overall game structure (that I would like to see in a human sport as well). Qualification matches randomly rotate 3 team alliances in two-alliance matches. This means that teams must rely on other teams over which they have no choice and little control. The GDC should always be thinking of how the game promotes positive interaction among alliance mates both during AND prior to any given match. Last year we helped build 2 intakes for other teams at the competition. It was beneficial to all of us. The GDC should think about promoting this element.

Coopertition is a nice concept but if it’s only in force during qualifications it can lead to weird incentives and can be ignored by teams that are pretty sure of being selected by an alliance no matter what. Teams have sabotaged coop attempts to further their own goals. To truly promote interteam coopertition, interteam play has to be continued into the elimination rounds like last year.

The multi-task games with auto and end stages are interesting but not necessary elements. If there is an end stage it should be important enough to sway the game. This can be a way of allowing single focus teams as more important players into the game.

Great insight !
The GDC took a big jump away from FRC games with Recycle Rush and certain FRC staples have changed drastically.
I hope the GDC compares Recycle Rush and previous games with a focus on teamwork.

Two things that I appreciate in a good FRC game:

  1. Nearly unlimited scoring opportunities. I enjoyed years like 2012 where a team or alliance could expand their score the faster and faster they got. This is in contrast to 2011 where the scoring was saturated, or close to it, at high levels of play.

  2. Game designs that do not have a choke-point. In years like 2002 and 2010 there were choke-point strategies that essentially broke the game. While it is interesting to see teams figure this out, it can lead to some very boring matches.

  3. Games that demand cooperation and/or have enough activities where a niche robot can excel. I like building robots to fill an interesting niche that many teams can’t or don’t fill and/or I like to play the game a bit differently than most. What I disliked about 2014 was that so many robots were about the same as each other, scouting felt like just asking “what Ri3D clone are you?”

  4. A balanced end-game can be a great thing. But, getting the weighting right is very hard. Years like 2003 and 2011 were considerably over-weighted and years like 2013 were under-weighted. 2010 and 2012 were well-weighted, they could close a big gap, but were not critical to winning or doing well.

The most important parts of game design for me:

  1. Exciting to watch and play- this is the most common thread between the last three games in FRC. Aerial Assist, Ultimate Ascent, and Rebound Rumble were exciting to watch when played even at a middling level of effectiveness.

  2. Playable at all levels of competition and for all levels of teams- Teams in the past few games at any levels could contribute to an alliance regardless of resources by engineering a robot intelligently. I appreciate teams like 4039 and 131 for completing the game task very effectively with more limited resources just as much as I appreciate teams with resources completing the taks well in other ways.

  3. Games with strategic opportunity- A team of lesser robots can overcome a team of better robots by playing the match intelligently. This was huge in Aerial Assist and somewhat important in Ultimate Ascent. Most games in the past have had this to varying degrees.

  4. Games that are based on skill, not luck- While a team of lesser robots should be able to beat better opponents, it should be difficult to do. Games need to reward skill- meaning good engineering and often good driver skill, not a coin flip or worse- fouls.

Games that have these four items in particular excite me.